Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Local Color

An assertion: pop, my kind of pop, thrives in small towns. Not always, and not exclusively, but often, small towns are the best incubators for timeless pop gems.

Exhibit A: Stephen Lawrenson.

Lawrenson lives near me, in the bucolic splendor and rolling hills of the northeast. He's a grownup, with a job and kids and stuff. And in 2003, he retired into the kingdom of his mind to create a pop record. Now, there's nothing so unusual about this, really. When the DIY ethic and the digital revolution coincide, miracles are possible. One guy alone in a room can produce sounds it used to take a serious studio to generate. Hell, anyone with money can make a vanity record. That doesn't mean anyone wants to hear it. But Lawrenson sent an EP off to Paisley Pop in Portland, Oregon, and they encouraged him to make a full-length CD.

The CD in question, Every Summer, is now out, and garnering great reviews. He played IPO in Philadelphia and will play in Nashville next month. He's getting airplay on and

Like the best pop, Lawrenson wears his influences proudly: The Beatles, ELO, The Hollies, the Raspberries. The essence of the genre is not just wearing the influences, it seems to me, but weaving them, too. Lawrenson has a gift for that. Expect layered guitars, thick harmonies, infectious melodies, plus a vague psychedelic daze that hangs over many of the tunes.

David Bash, the mastermind of International Pop Overthrow, has included Lawrenson in his Best Albums of 2004. Another reviewer has called Lawrenson's CD, "10 perfect tracks timed to such an effect they most certainly do not overstay their welcome but leave you wanting more without the frustration of not being able to get it. The rich harmonies (and their carefully layered arrangements) are a balm to all our pop senses with their uplifting refrains." (Bruce Brodeen, Not Lame). Indeed, one track clocks in at just under 3 minutes, another at just over 4, but mostly these are traditionally structured gems, and stand up to the best of the form.

Small towns can be stultifying, no doubt. But they can also free an artist from the tyranny of the hip. When there is no scene, there's no scene to keep up with, and the timelessness of pop can grow unimpeded. As Lawrenson asks, in "Town," one of the best tracks on the disc: "Is it so wrong to lead a simple life?"

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